Looking Back at the Best and Worst of 2017

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What a year 2017 has been! As I had hoped, it was indeed a brighter year, leaving much to reflect on. As in previous years, I had the opportunity to see several older films on the big screen through the Kansas Silent Film Festival and Cinema a Go-Go. I attended my second Christopher R. Mihm film premiere in Minnesota and my first Joshua Kennedy premiere at Monster Bash.

However, two events shine above the rest and mean quite a lot to me. First, let me say that neither of these would have happened without my good friend Jeff Owens. For that, I am eternally thankful. In January, Jeff and I launched our own podcast, the Classic Horrors Club Podcast. Every month, Jeff and I take a look at classic sci-fi and horror films that we both love so much. It has been so much fun! Then, in June, Jeff nominated me for membership in the Kansas City Film Critics Circle. I was accepted and it is indeed an honor to be a part of this prestigious group. It is the second oldest film critics association in the United States.

So, with all of that business aside, let’s get things started with some statistics. How many films did I watch in 2017?

Action: 12

Animated: 17

Comedy: 27

Documentary: 4

Drama: 25

Fantasy/Horror/Sci-Fi: 152

Musical: 4

Mystery/Thriller: 6

War/Western: 1

Total films watched: 248 (the most since 2012)

Movies Watched in a Movie Theater: 79 (all-time record for me; 58 new releases and 21 classics)

Now, it’s time for the official best-of-the-best and worst-of-the-worst. As with any list, they’re subjective to my viewing experience and mood at the time. Enjoy them and maybe you can get a few suggestions along the way.

Top Ten Movies Seen in a Movie Theater

1. Logan – I thoroughly enjoyed Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s last ride as Wolverine and Professor X.
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Yes, I’m one of those fans who enjoyed it. Not ashamed to admit it.
3. Wonder Woman – Best film so far in the new DC cinematic universe.
4. Darkest Hour – Gary Oldman shines in this wonderful story of Churchill and the dawn of World War II.
5. Hidden Figures – Yes, it’s technically from 2016 but I saw it in January and it deserves the recognition.
6. Thor: Ragnorak – I thought this was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it, which is why I go to the movies.
7. IT – Best horror film of the year.
8. Split – My mind is still blown at the twist ending.
9. Get Out – This is getting a lot of awards recognition and it’s well-deserved.
10. The Lego Batman Movie – So many cool Bat-references!

Honorable Mention: Only the Brave – A great film that didn’t seem to get much love in awards season.

Worst Movies Seen in a Movie Theater

The Snowman – This movie should never have been released as it was essentially unfinished.
The Bye Bye Man – Interesting idea for a short film but poorly executed with horrific acting and laughable special effects.
Snatched – This comedy could have been funny as a short but it was way too long and just not that funny.
The Dark Tower – So many mistakes made in this mess. Even Idris Elba couldn’t save it.

Top Ten Movies Seen on Home Media for the First Time (My disclaimer on this list is that many of these films are new theatrical releases which I was able to view through screener copies; otherwise, many would have appeared in my top ten theatrical list)

1. The Shape of Water (2017) – An amazing sci-fi flick from Guillermo del Toro.
2. The Sound of Music (1964) – I know, embarrassing it took this long but I credit my girlfriend Karla for my newfound enjoyment of musicals.
3. Molly’s Game (2017)
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
5. Ladybird (2017)
6. Gifted (2017)
7. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) – I wish this would have received more love.
8. The Unknown (1927) – First time viewing for this classic from Lon Chaney and I loved it.
9. Brigadoon (1954) – Another amazingly fun musical.
10. El Vampiro (1957) – I’ve wanted to watch this for years and I was not disappointed.

Worst Movies Seen on Home Media for the First Time

Kill Switch (2017) – This movie is poorly made and was a major chore to sit through. Honestly, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.
Megan Leavey (2017) – A lot of people loved this movie but I really don’t like Kate Mara, which played a huge factor in my lack of enjoyment.
Gorath (1962)
Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)

Looking ahead to the first half of 2018, I’m excited about the latest from Marvel, Black Panther and The Avengers: Infinity War. I’m also interested in A Wrinkle in Time since I read the first two books decades ago. Of course, Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and The Incredibles 2 have my attention as well. So, let’s close the curtain on 2017 and fire up the projector again in the new year! 

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Kansas City Film Critics Circle Announces 2017 Awards

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Since 1966, when it was formed by Dr. James Loutzenhiser, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle has been at the forefront of the cinematic community in Kansas City. In fact, it is the second oldest professional film critics’ association in the United States, after the New York Film Critics Circle.

With the end of the year, it’s time to reflect on the best of the best of 2017. As a new member of the KCFCC, this was my first year participating in the annual voting and I can say it was quite fun discovering films I might not have otherwise watched.

So, grab a drink and some popcorn while you get out your personal checklist and see what the KCFCC voted as the best in the 52nd Annual James Loutzenhiser Awards.

BEST PICTURE: Get Out

SOW

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR: Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name

BEST ACTRESS: Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Jordan Peele, Get Out

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: (tie) James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name and Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, Logan

logan

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Coco

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: In The Fade

BEST DOCUMENTARY: Jane

VINCE KOEHLER AWARD FOR BEST SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY or HORROR FILM: Get Out

TOM POE AWARD FOR BEST LGBT FILM: Call Me By Your Name

Countdown to Christmas – Once Upon a Silent Scrooge, Part Two

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“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

With three film adaptations of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol by 1910, early film was already beginning to advance. Slightly longer production times were becoming more common and many eyes in Hollywood were focused on adapting stage productions for the silver screen. This was also common in the UK, as many stage actors would begin to make the transition to cinema. However, the stage was still considered legitimate while film was still thought of as a passing fade by many. Enter Sir Seymour Hicks, the first actor to bring his stage performance of Ebenezer Scrooge to celluloid.

Hicks was born in 1871 and would make his stage debut at the age of nine. By 16, he was joining a theatrical company and touring America. In 1901, the year of the first film adaptation, Hicks graced the stage as Scrooge for the first time as well. At the young age of 30, Hicks began a lifelong relationship with the role. He would play the role thousands of time on stage, so it’s no surprise that he would also play Scrooge on film not once, but twice. The first was in 1913 before Hicks had even turned 40.

Scrooge-1913

Scrooge (1913) opens with a brief description of the story to unfold with a vision of Charles Dickens writing the story. Then, a description of Scrooge is seen before the story proper begins with Scrooge arriving at his office. With a running time of 40 minutes, Scrooge is still considered a short film. However, at more than double the length of the previous 1910 adaptation, the extra running time allows for an expanded vision of the classic story.

Some aspects of the story seen in this version are not commonly present in other adaptations. There is a seen where a grocer comes to Scrooge for assistance to help feed the poor but is turned away. This replaces the more common scene of the local businessmen asking Scrooge for money. There is also a brief scene where Scrooge gives Cratchit a gift of a used quill which is also never seen in other versions. Granted, Scrooge makes a comment about it making Cratchit work better but I still found that scene particularly odd as it shows Scrooge in an almost more pleasant light too early in the film.

Another difference here is that Jacob Marley represents the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Now, this was a plot device that had been done in some of the previous, shorter versions but is an odd choice here considering the slightly longer running time. I also found the special effects less effective here than in the earlier versions. It may be that the shorter American productions were more innovative or had a bigger budget. The script also limits Scrooge’s mobility, having everything take place in his office as well as Scrooge having visions of him helping Cratchit’s family rather than actually displaying on screen. Poor Tiny Tim gets the short end of the script again but, at least, he gets mentioned here more than in the past. All that said, this UK production is still very well done and well worth watching to see the progression of Scrooge on screen.

Scrooge-1913-2

Scrooge wouldn’t be seen in America until 1926, by which time it would have the title of Old Scrooge. It’s likely that American audiences were less than impressed with this production as there had been quite a few advancements in film in the previous 13 years and 40-minute films were becoming overshadowed by longer and more elaborate productions. However, it would be the last of the silent film adaptations to survive for many years.

Five additional films were made between 1914 and 1928, including the first feature-length film in 1916. Sadly, most of these films are now lost with very little known about them. One short two-reel film version was made in 1922 as part of the UK series Tense Moments with Great Authors. In 1929, it was edited down to 9 minutes as an American one-reeler and that version still exists today. It was directed by George Wynn and starred H.V. Esmond as Scrooge. At 9 minutes, it clearly tells a greatly abbreviated version and is really nothing more than a curiosity by today’s standards. That said, Esmond looks quite convincing as Scrooge with a performance that seems very similar to that of Alastair Sim from 1951s Scrooge. We also get to see two of the ghosts in addition to Marley, something overlooked in other versions. I would love to see the full-length version but, for now, this edited release gives us a glimpse of a fairly well-done production.

Scrooge-1929

With the arrival of sound, Scrooge would lay dormant for a few years, resurfacing in 1935 with Sir Seymour Hicks reprising the lead role some 22 years after his 1913 film. It would start a new era of Scrooge with so much more of the original story making it to screen with the longer running times and bigger budgets. From Reginald Owen to Alastair Sim to Patrick Stewart, many actors would bring Scrooge to life in ways the actors from the silent era never could. However, there is a great charm and a certain amount of grittiness present in these early silent films. Future adaptations would expand on the tale, allowing the viewer to hear the change in Scrooge’s voice and see all three ghosts on-screen. However, these silent films kept the story of Scrooge alive in the hearts of film lovers for generations, solidifying their importance in cinematic history.

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” 

Countdown to Christmas – Once Upon a Silent Scrooge, Part One

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“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

Dickens

The immortal opening paragraph of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol sets the stage by establishing the death of Jacob Marley, who is, ultimately, a very key character in Ebenezer Scrooge’s life and in the journey that awaits him. A Christmas Carol is one of the most beloved tales of the holiday season, having been told countless times on stage, screen and radio since its’ first publication in December 1843. Charles Dickens himself even began public readings of his story in 1849, further cementing the fact that it would never be out of print.

Barrymore

Every December, I listen to several different audio adaptations, but nothing ever seems to surpass the 1939 Campbell Playhouse broadcast featuring Lionel Barrymore in the lead role. He would portray Scrooge on radio for twenty years from 1934 to 1953, missing only two years. In 1936, he elected to skip the performance when his wife died and, in 1938, he let Reginald Owen have the spotlight for his performance in MGM’s film adaptation. In fact, Barrymore was cast to play Scrooge in that 1938 film. However, poor health forced him to pass on the role, robbing generations to come of what could have been an iconic performance. Barrymore died on Nov. 15, 1954, a little more than a month before what would have been his 21st performance.

While Barrymore is rightfully credited with making Scrooge a household name in the 1930s and influencing MGM to produce their own film version, old Ebenezer had already been seen countless times on the big screen. In fact, there were nine different adaptations made in the silent film era, from 1901 to 1929, with varying degrees of success. In those early days of film, most productions were often quite short, lasting anywhere from mere seconds to less than five minutes.

Scrooge-1901

The very first adaptation came in 1901 and was entitled Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost. Directed in the UK by Walter R. Booth, it boldly attempted to tell the tale in just over six minutes, with the emphasis on Jacob Marley. Rather than being shown the errors of his ways by the three visiting ghosts, it’s Marley, wearing a stereotypical ghostly white sheet, who presents the visions to Scrooge. Despite having limited resources, the film actually has some impressive special effects and some scenes were enhanced with early color tinting. Daniel Smith does an adequate job of portraying Scrooge, despite the fact that the overall presentation seems more like a stage play, which was a common story telling device in early cinema. Thankfully, this earliest film version, only 30 years removed from the death of Dickens himself, still exists more than a century later. Despite that it is missing much of the classic story, it remains a nice curiosity and a glimpse into Christmas past.

The next adaptation came in 1908 from Essanay Studios, marking the first American adaptation. Unfortunately, this film has been lost to the ravages of time, so very little is known of this early production. It is believed to have been approximately 15 minutes long and starred Thomas Ricketts as Scrooge. Early scene descriptions give us an idea of what we could have seen and it appears that the three ghosts were actually present on screen this time. Unlike the 1901 film, it doesn’t appear that the film ended on Scrooge helping Tiny Tim. Rather, it concludes with Scrooge simply realizing the errors of his ways. The film received high praise from the critics of the day, so we can only hope that a print resurfaces someday so that modern audiences can once again experience the first American version of Scrooge.

Scrooge-1910

Two years later, in 1910, another film version was produced in the United States. This time, the legendary Edison Manufacturing Company gave us a ten-minute adaptation featuring Marc Dermott in the lead role. McDermott is actually well-known amongst silent film aficionados for his roles in such classics as The Sea Hawk (1924) and He Who Gets Slapped (1924) alongside Lon Chaney. This 1910 film is just one of over 140 films McDermott would do for Edison, establishing him as a star in early Hollywood. McDermott does quite well in the role of Scrooge, for as much as we can tell without being able to hear his voice. The extra running time allows more of the ghostly interactions to play out with greater detail. Early special effects help give the past visions a more spectral appearance, rather than being a limitation. This is really the first time we get to witness the longer redemption of Scrooge on screen. Once again, Tiny Tim is less a presence here, due most likely to the limited running time. However, it doesn’t hurt the overall presentation, which is well-worth watching.

Three years later, A Christmas Carol is finally adapted into a film with a longer running time and Seymour Hicks would give us the first of his two cinematic versions of Scrooge. Return on Thursday as Scrooge enters the twilight of the silent film era.

Countdown to Christmas – Better Watch Out (2017)

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With Christmas just seven days away, it’s time to begin the annual Countdown to Christmas! This year, we start the seasonal greetings with a review of a new horror flick, Better Watch Out (2017)! Check out episode 538 of the Dread Media podcast for my thoughts and a little Christmas tune from Alice Cooper!

Then, come back on Wednesday for the first of a special two-part series on the silent film adaptations of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens!

Classic Horrors Club Podcast – Ray Harryhausen

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This month on episode 13 of the Classic Horrors Club Podcast, Jeff and I celebrate the legendary Ray Harryhausen with a trip down to Oklahoma to visit the Mythical Menagerie exhibit. Of course, we can’t do this without some help from Steve Sullivan. We also discuss two of Harryhausen’s earlier classics, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) and 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)!

As you listen to the episode, check out Jeff’s Classic Horrors Club blog as he’s posting some awesome pictures from the exhibit.

You can also win a copy of Christopher R. Mihm’s latest film, Demon with the Atomic Brain, simply by calling with your suggestions for future episodes of the podcast:

(616) 649-2582
(616) 649-CLUB

The Classic Horrors Club Podcast is a monthly podcast hosted by myself and Jeff Owens (Classic Horrors Club) available through the Phantom Podcast Network! You can listen through the SoundCloud link above or by subscribing to the Phantom Podcast Network via iTunes.